CSUN students mentor local at-risk youth

Lidya Munoz

School is a crucial aspect in childhood and adolescence; just like it can be a breeze it can also be a difficult time in a child’s and a teenager’s life.  It is here when many kids come head to head with new difficult challenges, ranging from a broken home, gangs, drugs, or maybe they are academically challenged.

Thirteen years ago, the chancellor encouraged all 23 CSU campuses to have a community engagement office. Community serve learning was the birth of community engagement.

The Community Engagement Program on campus aims to these specific children and youth in the hopes of reaching out to these kids by bringing classes and students on campus out to the community, through one-on-one teachings, motivation, and creativity.

“Community Engagement is here to focus faculty, students and staff on serving the community in ways that engage them in their curriculum,” Merri Whitelock, the managing director of CSUN’s Community Engagement Program. “It’s the idea of learning by doing, and not only do we find that the student actually understands the curriculum being taught in the classroom, but they actually get to implement that curriculum.”

Community Engagement has designed four programs to assist children and adolescents primary in education through motivation. LATeam, MOSAIC, Jumpstart, and JusticeCorps are catered to each child and youth specifically.

LATeam (Los Angeles Team Mentoring) started at CSUN two years ago. It works with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and one of their local schools is Pacoima Middle School.

It focuses on high-risk middle school children, and CSUN students are recruited to work the whole academic year from October to June. The children participating in this program might be performing poorly academically, or they might live in a community with high rates of violent crime.

“We work on their team building skills, their social skills, and most importantly we encourage them to go to college,” said Carmen Cabrera, project coordinator and liaison between LATeam and CSUN. “A lot of these kids are at risk, and they usually think they can’t go or it’s not for them, or they just don’t know too much about it. We encourage them that they can do it.”

Cabrera also recruits CSUN students. Before working with LATeam, these students are trained.  They work once a week for two hours for $300, and in some cases the students can get credit for a class.

The students work with a teacher from the school and work with another community partner. In this instance, Pacoima Middle School is partnered with Disney Consumer Products. They work in a team of three, Cabrera said.

MOSAIC (Mentoring to Overcome Struggles and Inspire Courage) has been on campus since 2002.  It works with kids ranging from age 9 to 23.

It’s a mentoring program that partners with four community sites, of which two are after-school programs called the Jeopardy Programs, run by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Foothill and Mission divisions, as well as two continuation high schools in the San Fernando Valley, Jack London Continuation High School and Evergreen Continuation High School.

Students who want to join MOSAIC must take Sociology 498, which is taught by professor Teresa Madden. It serves as a tool that helps mentors get involved with the youth culture, such as the graffiti culture or the hip-hop culture, explained Alex Ojeda, coordinator of MOSAIC.

“We send mentors to our four community partner sites, and they work with what they call ‘at-risk youth’ in different areas of academics and their personal lives. Kind of getting them geared into heading toward college,” Ojeda said.

Some of the students or youth in the program have been through the juvenile justice system, or were recommended by their counselors or deans. Other kids might be recommended by their parents because they have behavioral problems or they need help in school.

The kids are usually brought to campus once a semester to expose them to the college atmosphere. Ojeda explained that many of these kids don’t get to see anything outside their own neighborhood.

Students come up with “action plans” consisting of different goals—goals they want to achieve while they are working with a mentor.

“What I want the mentor to get out of it is that learning experience they can get from these kids that are in harsh conditions. As far as the kids, I want them to get out of it is a sense of confidence. A sense of self-confidence, a sense of self-identity, and a sense of security,” said Ojeda.

The third program under the Community Engagement umbrella is JumpStart, a nonprofit organization established in 2001 that partners CSUN students with preschool children, ages 3 to 5.

They all are HeadStart children and low-income. It has a two-partner program, Child Care Resource Center and Volunteers of America and currently working with six schools.

Danielle Watson, site manager of Jumpstart, trains students every Friday. The students are taught songs and how to talk to the children. They are sent out to a HeadStart, and do a Jumpstart session. It includes one-on-one readings, “Choice Time,” outside time, and small and large group activities.  With the parent’s permission, students then are partnered with a child who will benefit the most from the extra help.